Posted: May 10, 2017 4:45 PM

AeroVironment's Mantis i45 Sensor Suite for the Puma AE UAS Now in Full Production

By RICHARD R. BURGESS, Managing Editor

ARLINGTON, Va. — AeroVironment Inc.'s new Mantis i45 Super Gimbal sensor suite for its Puma AE small unmanned aerial system (UAS) has entered full production, company officials said.

“We just delivered our first i45 Super Gimbal this last month, which is a major game changer for both our land operators and our maritime operators,” Dave Sharpin, vice president and general manager of AeroVironment’s Tactical UAS Business Unit, told Seapower. “It incorporates five different cameras — two [ultra-high resolution] EO [electro-optical] cameras, two [long-wave] IR [infrared] cameras and a low-light camera — and a laser illuminator. It can stand off seven times as far and still have the same resolution as our previous camera. So it’s a big thing for operators who want to remain undetected.”

The current version of the Puma AE, the Block 2 or RQ-20B, is equipped with the Mantis i25 Gimbal sensor package that includes EO and IR cameras with a digital zoom capability on both, Sharpin said.

The i45 also features on-board storage of high-definition video and high-resolution still photos. Like the i25, the sensor package is retractable within the fuselage to protect it during landings. It is designed to retrofitted in any Puma AE, a “form-fit replacement with the existing i25 Gimbal out there in the inventory,” Kirk Flittie, vice president and general manager of AeroVironment’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems business segment, said in a May 10 release.

“We wanted to make it that way so that it’s easy to upgrade,” Sharpin said.

The Puma AE is used by Navy, Marine Corps and Army units and by several foreign customers. Designated RQ-20, the Puma AE can land in water and quickly readied for another mission.

“The RQ-20 Puma is a 13.5-pound, all-environment, hand- or mechanical-launched, reconnaissance and surveillance UAS,” said Marine Col. Eldon Metzger, program manager for Navy and Marine Corps Small Tactical Unmanned Aircraft Systems, in response to a query from Seapower. “Because of its longer endurance, it is well suited for persistent surveillance of targets and areas of interest. It has a minimal footprint and can provide the ‘over-the-hill’ view for the warfighter.”

“With its dramatically improved imaging capabilities, AeroVironment’s Mantis i45 gimbal is a powerful, versatile and high-value tool that gives military users world-class ISR [intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance] capabilities comparable to platforms many times the size and cost of Puma AE,” Flittie said.

“In operations, the Mantis i45 reduces the likelihood of detection by increasing the distance between the Puma AE and areas of interest while still providing the clarity and image quality of a close-range asset,” he said. “The higher-resolution imagery also aids in target analysis, positive identification and better enables operators to identify threats to friendly forces. By minimizing Puma’s exposure to detection by the enemy, the Mantis i45 greatly improves its ability to complete reconnaissance missions safely and effectively.”

The Puma AE with the i45 sensor package was evaluated in an exercise conducted in April in San Diego with the Marine Corps, Sharpin said, and paired with a small, precision munition.

“The Puma AE with the i45 was providing surveillance and we put it together with our Switchblade miniature munition to provide a sensor-to-shooter capability for the Marines,” he said. “So that was demoed last week. Not only can you do ISR, but you can engage targets with two of our systems.”

The Switchblade is not carried by the RQ-20 but launched from the ground or a surface platform.

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